The Forges de Crans site: Part of our Living Industrial Heritage
The first remnants of metalworking at the site date back to the 15th century, when water wheels were installed to work the forge’s trip hammer, used to produce weapons. In 1765, the Manufacture Royale de Crans was created (steel industry, production of agricultural equipment and weapons of war) and, after assuming several family-based company names, became the S.A. des Fonderies et Forges de Crans public limited company in 1890 and, ultimately, the Société des Forges de Crans in 1952.
From the early 1800s, when the first rolling machines made their appearance, the activities began taking shape that would remain today at the heart of the worker’s production cooperative’s business. With the integration of the aluminium smelting works in 1907, smelting and rolling would make up the core business until 1952, when smelting, as a specific business activity, was abandoned in favour of rolling and lacquering (introduced in 1934).
The relationship between the Forges and Pechiney goes way back. Since 1864, the Roux de Bézieux family, who owned the Forges, figured among the administrators of the Henry Merle company, which became the Compagnie des Produits Chimiques d’Alais & de la Camargue group and then Rangod Pechiney & compagnie in 1877. It is thanks to this strong relationship that aluminium was introduced to the Forges. Jean Roux de Bézieux, the last chief executive of the Forges de Crans, served as administrator from 1955 to 1971. In 1968, the Forges became a subsidiary of the Pechiney group. In 1983, the site was fully absorbed and simply became the ‘Annecy plant’.
The Forges activities peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, with 660 employees
In 1961, the Forges suggested to Tefal, a newly emerging company at the time, that it set up in a 3,000 m2 plant in Rumilly. So, the Forges served as a genuine laboratory for Pechiney and was one of its flagship sites. However, beginning in the early 1980s, economic hardships and the industrial crisis resulted in nationalisation and, afterwards, a series of acquisitions.
In 2006, the American investment fund AIAC purchased the Forges plant, which then became Alpine Aluminium. In 2012, the company was losing €1.5 million each year, leading to legal redress in 2014. On 9 June 2015, the employees submitted an offer to resume operations using a worker’s production cooperative format. On 15 July 2015 and after 4 months of intense work, the Tribunal de Commerce (French commercial court) authorised the return to business as put forward by the employees. They managed to convince clients, banks, communities and organisations to invest $10.5 million into their project.
This entire story, whether related to economic changes or technical developments, is now documented, making it possible to explain the site’s history, and includes the industrial context, the economic history, the social history and the technical history.
In this respect, the Alpine Aluminium worker’s cooperative has inherited a fundamental industrial heritage that is still alive today.